There we were at my job’s end-of the year
picnic, showing off my little 4-month-old baby to
co-workers and handing her around to people who had
passed the 43-question test (with essay) we require
before you can handle little Amelie.
My eyes became transfixed on a group of kids in
the corner of the yard, all hootin’ and hollerin’
while blasting a little red ball at each other
trying to take someone’s knee cap off.
"That’ll be you soon," somebody said,
noticing my gaze as I bounced the baby.
I stared starry-eyed and muttered,
"yeah." And then it occurred to me,
"no." He didn’t mean me! He meant that
will be Amelie one day. She will be out there
playing, whoopin’ it up with the other kids, and
by the size of her, beating them up and stepping on
them with her massive size 62 shoes that are usually
worn by circus bears to keep their snaggly toenails
from tearing up the carpet.
He meant her, not me!
But I wanted to be out there with them … in the
mix … whoopin’ it up… gettin’ crazy …
gettin’ grass stains on my pants … messin’ up
my hair … rolling in the grass until I itched so
bad I thought my skin would fall off.
Not her. Me!
Look at ‘em. It’s summertime. Daylight
savings time is back. The air is warm. The grass is
thick and there’s playin’ to do. Lots of it.
I wanted the red ball. Do you know how far I
could kick that thing? I almost ran out to the pack
and screamed: "Hey, I can kick the ball over
Remember doing that as a kid? Everybody crowded
back, you licked your lips and gave it your best
whack. Straight up it went, and straight down it
came, whistling like a falling bomb. Kids ran
screaming for cover, and it always smacked right
into your mom’s car, leaving a nice big dent in
So you tried again …
These were the things you did when you had 17
Cokes in you, 22 cupcakes and a 5 lb. bag of sugar
you’d eaten with a ladle. The uncontainable energy
would build up until it bubbled out like molten lava
desperate for a way to free itself. To set it loose,
all you had to do was run wild like an antelope with
its hind quarters on fire. As you lost steam, and
control of your senses, you crashed into a tree.
There, in the childhood equivalent of public
drunkenness, an arm bent backward or blood trickling
from your forehead, you panted like a wild dog and
for the first time noticed that the world was, in
fact, spinning … and there were dancing cows over
by the swing set.
"You OK?" some worried parent would
rush over to ask. Unable to contain your wobbly head
or the goofy grin that had sprawled out across your
face, that little brain uttered a canned line saved
for just such occasion: "Me? Fine. I need
another soda, though."
And off this adult would trot to help renew your
Climbing trees. Falling out of trees. Can you
remember landing squarely on your back and the
hollow thud it made as every bit of air was forced
out of your lungs? Why was it fun lying there
gasping and trying to grip the air with your hands
to force it into your mouth? But it was.
I miss it. I miss it so much. Won’t be long
before my little one can get out there. Can mix it
up. And I will have to watch from the sidelines, and
dream. Dream of my childhood and falling out of
trees and getting beamed by balls with my knee caps
nearly flying off. I’ll live through her
vicariously… or just maybe I’ll jump in and try
to boot a ball over a house.
* * * * *
Thompson is a former journalist in St. Augustine,
Florida, where he writes a weekly humor column
called "Life in a Nutshell" for the The
St. Augustine Record. His topics range from the
proper way to lose a load of lumber out the back of
a pickup truck to soiled baby diapers that could
peel paint off the wall. He is a short story writer
and the public information director at Flagler
College, where he also teaches future journalists on
the college's newspaper bad habits. You can read his
columns online at Nutshell City and reach him
at [email protected].